One of the most exciting questions about healthy eating is eating meat. And, probably, the most common question arises about the internal organs of animals, which are used as food products. The liver stands out especially. “Is the liver a healthy product?” We will look for the answer to this question in our article, relying only on scientific and verified facts.
Organic meat products, including the liver, are considered one of the most powerful superfoods. But why is the liver good for eating? The liver — including beef liver, chicken liver, and cod liver — contains just a tremendous amount of essential nutrients. This usually surprises people, because the organs of the animal, including the liver, spleen, brain and kidneys, are usually discarded and not used in favor of muscle meat.
When we usually think of superfoods, we are presented with beautiful green leafy vegetables, bright berries, cocoa, green tea or other plant products. However, some animal products are also very valuable due to the rich content of useful substances in them, especially internal organs or offal. Thanks to an extremely large number of useful substances, offal has been consumed for centuries by generations of people in many cultures of the world.
The liver is especially distinguished against the background of other offal. It is believed that every gram of the liver is beneficial and very valuable for health. And even if you may never have thought that the liver can be as healthy as fruits and vegetables, then be sure that the liver is one of the most nutritious and dense foods on the planet, filled with vitamin A, iron, and vitamins of the group B (especially B12) and many others.
So, the answer to this question is “Is the liver a healthy product?” unequivocal – YES. As many studies have shown, eating liver helps prevent anemia, maintains good fertility in both men and women, helps detoxify the body, and more.
The nutritional value of the liver
The liver of different animals will provide different levels of micronutrients. For example, chicken liver contains the following substances per 30 g. finished product:
Calories : 49 kcal
Protein : 7 gr.
Fat : 2 gr.
Vitamin B12 : 6 mcg (79%)
Vitamin A : 4,076 IU (75%)
Folate : 162 mcg (40%)
Vitamin B2 / riboflavin : 0.6 mg (33%)
Selenium : 23 mg (33%)
Vitamin B5 / pantothenic acid : 1.9 mg (19%)
Iron : 3.6 mg (18%)
Vitamin B3 / Niacin: 3.9 mg (15%)
Vitamin B6 : 0.2 mg (11%)
Phosphorus : 125 mg (eleven%)
Fats in the liver
If you are interested in whether fat in the liver is harmful, then you have nothing to worry about. The liver as a whole does not contain very much fat compared to other animal products, such as beef, butter, poultry or fatty dairy products. One ounce (30 grams) of liver contains about 2 grams of fat.
This does not mean that fat from quality animal products is bad for you. Getting saturated fat from animal products, in particular from the liver, can be very beneficial for health. For example, healthy fats help in neurological function, hormone production, and reproductive health. Some animal studies have shown that adding chicken liver to rats helps alleviate oxidative stress and improve serum lipids, even though it was a high-fat diet ( 1 ).
Liver Health Benefits
The liver is an internal organ found in the abdominal cavity of both humans and many animals, especially all vertebrates. Beef (veal) liver, chicken liver and cod liver are the most common types of liver in many countries. Throughout history, people living all over the world have appreciated the beneficial properties of offal, such as the liver, for helping to fight infertility and improving fertility, growth and development, maintaining a high level of energy and vitality, as well as mental health.
Is the liver really good for you and how nutritious is it? This offal is not only rich in high levels of iron and vitamin A, but also one of the best sources of many B vitamins, phosphorus and magnesium. The liver is a leader among all foods for the content of vitamin B12. If you compare the total density of liver nutrients with other healthy foods, such as spinach, carrots or apples, the liver will surpass them all in the calculation – how many vitamins and minerals are per calorie.
However, the key to getting all these benefits out of the liver is eating a healthy animal’s liver. It is not recommended to eat any offal obtained from animals that were sick or old, poorly looked after and improperly fed. So, let’s focus on the main thing. We distinguish 9 main beneficial properties of the liver for human health.
1. The liver contains a lot of vitamin B12
The No. 1 advantage in eating liver is that it is filled with vitamin B12. We know that vitamin B12 promotes the formation of red blood cells and improves cellular function. Eating foods high in vitamin B12 helps prevent B12 deficiency, which can cause symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, blurred vision, and mood changes. We also need vitamin B12 for the function of the nervous system, which supports our metabolism and brain health.
2. The liver is rich in active vitamin A
The liver is one of the most concentrated sources of vitamin A. This vitamin is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, helping to reduce inflammation by fighting free radical damage. This is necessary for healthy vision and eyes, healthy skin, healthy thyroid, build strong bones, regulate the genome, facilitate cell differentiation and support immune function.
The important thing is that vitamin A, found in the liver, is in active form (also called retinol), which comes only from animal products. Active or preformed vitamin A can be used directly by the body and does not need to be converted first, like plant-based vitamin A (called carotenoids).
3. There is a lot of iron in the liver, which helps to cope with anemia.
If you are struggling with any type of anemia, which is often associated with iron deficiency, then the liver is one of the best foods to eat. It contains a powerful combination of folic acid, iron and vitamin B12. These are two vitamins and a mineral that you need to naturally overcome anemia and prevent or treat symptoms such as low vitality, fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, or neurological problems.
Iron intake and anemia prevention for women during periods of menstruation, pregnant women, nursing mothers and vegetarians are especially important.
4. The liver contains vitamin B6, biotin and folic acid
In addition to vitamin B12, there is a lot of vitamin B6, biotin, and folic acid in the liver. These B vitamins, especially folates, help your body with an important process called methylation, a key metabolic process in the human body. An important reaction in the body, depending on the availability of an adequate amount of folic acid, is the conversion of deoxyuridylate to thymidylate during DNA synthesis, which is necessary for proper cell division ( 2 ). When this process is disrupted, it initiates megaloblastic anemia, one of the hallmarks of folate deficiency.
The liver also contains a certain amount of the following nutrients: copper, zinc, chromium and selenium, which have far-reaching benefits for human metabolism, the central nervous system and the endocrine system.
5. The liver is very useful in planning pregnancy and during pregnancy.
The liver is an almost ideal food for pregnant women, providing protein, B12, iron, folic acid, and other essential nutrients for reproductive health and fetal development. Pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding need even more B12 than usual to help with the growth and development of their children, including the brain and organs. Folic acid is also especially important during pregnancy because it helps prevent birth defects. Folate (a natural form, unlike synthetic folic acid) helps in preventing neural tube defects and serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord.
Pregnant women are at higher risk of iron deficiency due to an increase in the body’s need for this mineral, which makes the liver an essential product, since iron plays a role in the transfer of oxygen to tissues, including the placenta. The liver is also a good source of protein during pregnancy. Pregnant women should strive to eat at least three servings or 75 grams. protein per day.
The liver also provides an active form of vitamin A for pregnant women, which helps reduce oxidative stress. For pregnant women over the age of 19, it is recommended to receive no more than 8,000 IU and at least 4,000 IU of vitamin A daily from dietary supplements, animal sources, and fortified foods ( 3 ).
6. Helps with detoxification and liver function support
One of the most common myths about the liver is its toxicity. Doctors are often asked the questions “Is the liver toxic?”, “Will the liver do more harm to health than good?”. In fact, toxins are cleared by the liver, but they are not stored in the liver! The liver helps filter waste products and toxins from the blood so that they can be removed from the body, but certain nutrients are needed for this. The liver is also responsible for the metabolism of drugs, hormones and medications, and also helps to produce the proteins necessary for blood coagulation.
Vitamins found in the liver, especially folate, help with cellular functions, so they help maintain the detoxification function of your body. This means that eating liver really helps a person’s liver function better. In fact, eating liver of animal origin is an effective cleansing of the human liver, especially when the principles of healthy and proper nutrition are generally respected. The liver provides your body and liver with all the necessary nutrients to get rid of the accumulated “waste”.
7. Good source of protein
100 gr. cooked chicken or beef liver contains 26-27 gr. quality protein. Macronutrient protein helps with dozens of functions in the body, including maintaining muscle mass, which is especially important with age. We also need enough protein to help in tissue repair, after heavy physical exertion, for good growth and development in childhood, for appetite control, hormone production, skin and hair formation, as well as for many other processes in the body.
8. Plays an important role in Gerson therapy against cancer
The liver has been widely used by natural medicine doctors for many years. The German scientist Dr. Max Gerson created a method called the Gerson Protocol or Gerson Therapy, which used the liver. Gerson Therapy was the natural cancer treatment protocol used for other conditions such as digestive, tuberculosis, and heart disease.
Gerson had patients who drank 13 glasses of vegetable juice per day, consumed raw vegetables and beef liver ( 4 ), which was part of his primary protocol, which helped patients to heal, thanks to the receipt of important vitamins and minerals. According to the Gerson Institute, Gerson Therapy helps restore health by supporting metabolic functions, reducing blood oxygen deficiency and supporting the thyroid gland, increasing antioxidant intake and reducing the amount of harmful fats, excess protein, sodium and other toxins.
9. The liver is rich in coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
It has been found that both beef liver and beef heart are rich sources of coenzyme Q10. This enzyme and at the same time antioxidant, which is often taken in the form of a dietary supplement today, is found in the highest concentration in the mitochondria of cells, also called cellular “power plants”, because it helps to generate energy. CoQ10 is useful for the health of the cardiovascular system, the stabilization of blood pressure, the improvement of the reproductive system (improving the quality of sperm and eggs), increasing stamina, reducing inflammatory reactions and much more. Animal organs are those products where you can find the largest supply of CoQ10, although muscle meat, and even some plant foods also contain the amount of coenzyme Q10, but in smaller doses ( 5 ).
As the body’s reserves in CoQ10 decrease with age, eating liver and other meat products is a great way to maintain an adequate level of this enzyme, helping to reduce the effects of free radicals and stress.
Types of liver that you can eat
It was believed that the liver from different animals has slightly different properties, although for the most part the liver from different animals provides the same nutritional benefits. The following are the different types of edible liver that you can find in grocery stores, farmers’ markets, specialized butcher shops, or even online:
Chicken liver has the mildest taste, so this is a good choice for those who have just started to “get acquainted” with offal. This is a type of liver that is often used to prepare pastes and other dishes that are served in restaurants or cooked at home. Chicken liver has more fat, folate, and iron than beef liver.
Beef and Veal Liver
Compared to chicken liver, beef liver contains slightly more calories, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin A, zinc and phosphorus. Many people believe that beef liver is not very tasty and appetizing compared to chicken liver, however, it is a matter of taste. You can find beef liver in some farmers markets. And, if possible, give preference to calf liver, as this reduces the likelihood that you will get an offal containing hormones and antibiotics that give adult cows.
Fish liver (e.g. cod liver)
An excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D.
You can also try ram liver, goat liver, duck liver or goose liver. For a better choice, contact your local butcher’s shop or farmer’s market, where they can tell you which liver is better to choose.
It is not recommended to eat pork liver due to the fact that pork offal is often made from unhealthy animals, although pig meat or pork is quite a useful product . Unfortunately, pigs are usually raised in the factory and processed with hormones or other chemicals.
How often can I eat the liver
Most experts recommend eating liver or other meat one to three times a week. You do not have to eat a large amount of this product to get all its health benefits. Even small portions of the liver, from about 30 to 120 grams several times a week, will provide you with a significant supply of nutrients. Usually, doctors recommend consuming 100 to 200 grams of liver per week.
When you buy liver, whether on the farmers market or in the form of a nutritional supplement, it is important that you receive it from healthy animals. Calf liver and chicken liver are two of the best choices for eating. If you cannot find the liver at the grocery store, search the farmer’s markets. There is a good chance that someone will be able to sell you good quality meat offal, including the liver.
Can I use the liver as a dietary supplement?
For those who do not want to take risks by eating beef or chicken liver from a grocery store, there is a great option to use a quality liver supplement instead.
Typically, such supplements are sold in powder or tablet form at health food stores or online. A high-quality liver supplement in its purest, most natural form basically works as multivitamins with a complex of B vitamins, in the form of tablets. This will be a great solution for those who struggle with anemia, low energy and vitality, fatigue, thyroid problems, autoimmune disease, poor cell function and even cancer.
Nevertheless, it is recommended that you eat a real liver if you tolerate meat offal well.
Some historical facts about liver use
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation , “Nearly every kitchen in the world has liver dishes. In some cultures, the liver is so highly valued that even human hands are forbidden to touch it … For most of the calculated time, people preferred the liver to muscle meat, considering it a source of great strength and magical healing abilities ”( 6 ).
In his book, Nutrition and Degenerative Diseases, Dr. Price traveled the world to study traditional diets in 14 different population groups. He found that almost every group included meat in their food in one form or another, as this helped them avoid diseases and multiply successfully.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the liver has long been considered nutritious energy. It is believed that the use of meat products helps replenish depleted reserves of nutrients and maintain the functions of internal organs ( 7 ). For many centuries, the liver has been consumed by hunter-gatherers, such as those living in parts of Africa, who preyed mainly on animals such as moose and deer. The liver was a valuable source of protein and nutrients when food was scarce, including in colder climates, when plant foods were difficult to grow.
In medieval Europe, the liver was a popular ingredient used as a filling for flour dishes, sausages and even meat puddings. In Asia, the liver has a long history of use in broths and stews. In Japan, the liver has always been considered an important food for pregnant women. Today, liver is still frequently consumed in France, Argentina, India, Spain, Russia, parts of Scandinavia and parts of the Middle East. For example, liver and onions are still a popular dish in Latin America, for example, in Spain or Portugal.
Potential liver damage to health
The liver is a very healthy food for most people. However, there are both pros and cons of liver use to be aware of.
- If you have high levels of iron or copper in your blood, then you need to limit your intake of liver and other meat products.
- If you are taking high doses of vitamin A in the form of a dietary supplement, be careful with your liver, as this can potentially increase your vitamin A levels to excessively high amounts. Very high intake of vitamin A can potentially be toxic and harmful and should be avoided, especially during pregnancy or in childhood.
- Regarding the use of raw liver, do this only if you are sure that the product is fresh and obtained from a healthy animal that was raised in good conditions. The health authorities of many countries oppose the use of raw liver because of the risk of infection with bacteria, although recorded data indicate that the risk is lower if you buy fresh, quality meat offal ( 8 ). Freezing and heat treating the liver helps reduce the risk of bacteria infection.
The liver is usually safe for babies from about 8-9 months old. Keep in mind that children require a very small portion of offal, and more is not always better.
So, to summarize on the benefits and harms of the liver to health.
- The liver is an organ found in all vertebrates, and which contains a huge amount of nutrients. Chicken liver, beef (veal) liver and cod liver are the three most widely available types of liver, although you can also find ram, goose, duck and other types of liver.
- Is the liver healthy? Yes! The liver is good for human health because it provides a large amount of vitamin B12, vitamin A, other vitamins B, iron, phosphorus, protein, CoQ10 and other important compounds. The benefits of eating liver include the prevention of anemia, helping to combat infertility and a healthy pregnancy, improving the detoxification of the body, preventing deficiencies in B vitamins and supporting liver function.
- Can the liver be harmful? Maybe, but only in exceptional cases.